It’s the familiar “I met someone” starry-eyed glow. “He’s so good to me. He gets along so well with my family, and he respects me. I’m really happy, and it’s getting pretty serious.” It’s a conversation I’ve had a few times. Different young women, same scenario. Being the listener and question-asker that I am, my probing eventually lands on the catch: “He’s not a Believer but…” There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there? He said he’ll go to church with me, he was burned by a church once, or he’s really open to spiritual things, so it’s only a matter of time, right? Our hearts so long for connection and intimacy with others that justification has to be employed at the expense of our better judgement.
I’m not here to dive into the meaning of “unequally yoked” or the greater risk of future heathen children. Us millennials like to roll our eyes at familiar speeches, anyways. I want to approach this topic from a different angle- one that I believe to be equally as Biblical. You see, these kinds of discussions can easily turn into an “us vs. them” refrain that neglects the spiritual well-being of everyone involved. In other words, instead of painting the unbelieving partner as the evil scoffer that bids enlightened but weak spirits to sit and join in their wickedness, have we ever stopped to consider that they, like us, are souls in need of God’s grace? Is it likely that an unbelieving boyfriend or girlfriend will spiritually benefit from an unequally yoked relationship? I don’t think so, and here are three reasons why.
You can’t offer the future they want
Someone who has been bought by the blood of Jesus should have different goals than someone who hasn’t. As believers, our lives should be marked by our ultimate purpose of building God’s kingdom. This affects the way we treat our finances, the way we pursue purity, and the way we spend our time. Unbelievers don’t have the same definitive objective, and so their choices are affected by their earth-bound ties. On this topic, the negative pull on the believing boyfriend or girlfriend down slippery slopes is typically what gets highlighted in the argument against dating outside the faith. But have you ever thought about the unfairness of shackling an unbeliever to heavenly goals, when they may not be able to one day reap the heavenly rewards? In other words, if you are holding steadfast to boundaries that protect your purity and pastimes that honor the Lord, the unbeliever is being forced under the law when grace to follow God has not yet been granted to them. We have accepted God’s free gifts of love and mercy to end that kind of slavery, so why would we wish that kind of life on someone we care for? Simply put, it is unkind, and realistically, it will create hurtful tension.
They see the compromise
This next one might hurt a bit, but please, oh please, take it with a heaping spoonful of sisterly love. If your ultimate goal is to win your sweetheart over while dating them, you are unintentionally sending a subtle message. This memo communicates that you aren’t very serious about your relationship with God, at least not when it comes to relationships, because you are compromising on His will for you. And if your commitment to Jesus is lacking, you don’t give much incentive for anyone close to you to follow Him, too. At best, you set an example of Christianity that picks and chooses from godly prescriptions. We want the people we care about to find in us a model of godly courage that leads them to the same kind of zeal for living that Jesus has. Sometimes that means skipping out on momentary happiness and potentially hurting feelings, understanding that God’s recommendations do not lead to disaster in the long run.
They need Jesus
Relationships tend to throw a smoky rave in your frontal cortex in a manner that clouds better judgment. Additionally, spiritual warfare is real, and if someone is truly a spiritual-seeker, a new relationship could be just the thing that the enemy uses to preoccupy their spirit. In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, an elder demon makes the following statement in coaching a newbie.
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
Although it is a fictional story, Lewis provides insight into the spiritual realm. The movement of a human soul towards the eternal freedom found in Christ is a fragile process. It is difficult enough for Believers to keep their commitment to Christ central in a dating relationship, so imagine how much more arduous it can become for an unbeliever to prioritize spiritual progress in the same circumstances. If you truly hope for someone’s journey with Jesus to begin, the most loving thing you can do is allow and pray for them to have space to encounter God, free from the distraction of a dating relationship.
Perhaps in reading this, you find yourself lost in the exceptions. It’s nice to talk about better/best scenarios in theory, but what about the real-life dating relationships that do result in the unbeliever giving their life to Christ? To that I would say: give credit where credit is due. We serve a gracious and powerful God who is all about redeeming our mistakes for His glory. The genuine conversion that occurs in “missionary dating” is more likely in spite of the relationship, not because of it. Truly loving someone means caring about their soul more than anything else. Jesus didn’t promise us an easy life. But His yoke becomes easy and His burden becomes light when we look to Him for wisdom and guidance, when we lean on Him for strength to sort through the difficult choices in life, and when we see people how He sees them- with loving, eternal lenses.
So how should we tread the waters that lead us through the tension of having romantic feelings for someone who isn’t committed to Christ? Show them the right kind of compassion. Introduce them to your community. Intentionally seek out people who are more fitted to pour into them without the risk of an emotional attachment. And absolutely pray. When we align ourselves to God in prayer, our desires can begin match His. We will start to recognize our inability to support the future unbelievers want, our need to provide a courageous example of faith, and our commitment to see others first and foremost as souls in need of a Savior.